March 29, 2019

Whitehouse Remarks on Reforming the Senate Budget Process

Nobody is tasked to look at our deficit and our debt. Theoretically, it’s us, but we’re not set up to actually do that.

Mr. Chairman, thank you very much. I remember very fondly my days of innocence when I came to the Budget Committee and thought that a deficit neutral reserve fund actually did anything and experienced a glow of satisfaction when I got one passed. Obviously, I’ve learned better over the years. So what this amendment focuses on, I think there is bipartisan agreement on, which is the need for reform of the budget committee. We are now fully meaningless.

We do two things. We do this, which is an exercise in partisan messaging back and forth, which is fine, but it doesn’t accomplish anything and we are the delivery system for a reconciliation measure that allows the Senate majority to pass something big with a simple majority around the 60 vote threshold. Those are the two things we do. We do nothing else. We do not look at the debt and the deficit in any serious way. We’re not even arithmetically prepared to look at the debt and the deficit in any serious way and if you look around this big building, the Capitol, and if you look for where somebody is supposed to be looking at the debt and the deficit there is no other place. It’s not like we can pay no attention here because don’t worry the appropriators have got it or the Finance Committee has got it, or some select commission has got it. Nobody is tasked to look at our deficit and our debt. Theoretically, it’s us, but we’re not set up to actually do that.

So, what I have proposed and Senator Perdue is my co-sponsor for this particular amendment to message on this, but I also want to thank Senator Blunt because this reflects a piece of legislation that he is my co-author and co-sponsor of in the Senate and I want to thank the Chairman because he is an enthusiastic ally and supporter of a budget reform process and has been extremely productive in all of this and I also want to thank all of the democratic and republican members on the Select Committee, who last year unanimously supported this measure. So, I think it’s passed a lot of tests of reasonableness.

The bottom line is that if we’re going to do something serious about our debt and our deficit, one we’ve got to get the arithmetic right. You’ve got to have the revenues in the arithmetic, you’ve got to have health care spending in the arithmetic, you’ve got to have tax spending in the arithmetic and you’ve got to have appropriations in the arithmetic. You take any of those out, you’re numbers don’t even add up any longer. You’re not doing the math correctly. Second thing we’ve got to do is figure out what our goal is and it seems from the unanimous consensus in the Select Committee and I think virtually all the testimony Mr. Chairman that we have had in this committee that a debt to GDP ratio is the metric and we can argue about what is should be, but that’s at least the conversation we should be having. And the last bit is how long does it take to get there? And then the third is the timing to get there. If you do it all at once, you could have a catastrophic shock. If you give yourself five to ten years, whatever the time frame we agree to, so now we have  the math correct, time frame to get there, and an agreed upon target. If we can do that, we’ll have done something big.

We’ll also make it biannual, which is an important consideration I think if we’re going to be serious, it should be biannual, and this is something that the Chairman has strongly, strongly supported. And for those of us who expect to be in the majority in the future, it does preserve reconciliation, so we still have that feature. So, I hope that the bipartisan nature of this, and I hope that our common unifier to not have the budget committee be structurally designed to fail at the most important task that we are tasked with will bring us around this amendment, which is a, sorry to say it, deficit neutral reserve fund. But it will at least provide a bipartisan message that we as a committee are willing to consider trying to get ourselves out of this bog that we are in right now. Thank you Chairman.